Mass is said every day around the world and it is a habit of many Catholics in the United States to receive the Eucharist daily. But that was not always the case.
Daily Mass was certainly not the practice in the time after Jesus’ death, said Father Ronald Kunkel, assistant professor of dogmatic theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.
“The Eucharist would have been celebrated exclusively on Sunday,” he said. “That would have been the privileged day on which the Christian community — the brothers and sisters in the Lord — gathered together in people’s homes to pray, to engage in fellowship and to celebrate the Lord’s supper, to celebrate the Eucharist in fulfillment of the Lord’s command ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
Some time in the second century Catholics began to celebrate Mass on days other than Sundays.
“That would have been tied very closely with the veneration of the saints — especially the martyrs of the early church,” he said.
Christians would gather on the anniversary of the martyrdom of somebody like St. Cecelia or St. Agnes. Those days were considered to be the martyrs’ “birthdays into heaven, the into the fullness of life with God.”
“So the community would gather on that anniversary, which of course could be on one of the other six days of the week depending on what year it was, and they would gather again to pray and venerate the memory of that particular saint to invoke their intercession and naturally enough to celebrate the Eucharist,” Kunkel said.
The practice expanded as feast days were added. Around the seventh century, daily Mass became more widespread throughout the Western church.
“All of the documents of the church exhort and encourage priests in the strongest language possible to offer the Eucharist every day, if possible. It is not, strictly speaking, obligatory for priests to say Mass everyday but it’s highly encouraged,” he said.
Over time, the church has come to value the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life and see the benefits.
“When you attend daily Mass you are being formed more by the word of God on a regular basis,” Kunkel said. “In other words, hearing that first reading, hearing that Gospel proclaimed, having the opportunity oftentimes to hear the priest preach a homily on those weekday readings is something which again shapes us. The Word of God forms us, instructs us, it nurtures us in the ways of God and in the ways of living as children of God.”
The U.S. bishops approved by a wide margin a plan to draft a document to examine the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church” following a lengthy debate during their spring general assembly.
Being unable to receive the Eucharist is a form of sacrifice, but it can also be a time for spiritual growth, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.